Coach Gustafsson eager to end Swedish gold famine
Friday, 24 August 2007
Originally published on IIHF.com in 2006
By Lucas Aykroyd
Once upon a time, Sweden won gold medals in international hockey. Bengt-Ake Gustafsson, the coach of Tre Kronor’s 2006 Olympic entry, was a member of two memorable championship squads at the 1987 and 1991 IIHF World Championships.
But lately, there haven’t been many fairy tale endings for the blue-and-yellow team, and the 47-year-old Karlskoga native knows that has to change. Gustafsson, who racked up 555 points as a star forward with the 1980’s Washington Capitals, knows how to win, as evidenced by the European Hockey League title he captured with Feldkirch as a player in 1998 and the Swedish Elitserien title he earned while coaching Farjestads BK Karlstad. Now it’s a matter of delivering on the promise of all the talent Sweden possesses.
IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd touched base with this IIHF Hall of Famer prior to the start of the Olympic tournament.
IIHF.com: What’s the most enjoyable part of being the Swedish national team coach?
Bengt-Ake Gustafsson: It’s just having the possibility to work with so many great hockey players. That’s the big thing. Being the coach of the national team, you get to pick the best Swedish players from teams all over the world. It’s a great feeling. Instead of being with a club, where you know “I’ve only got this to work with,” now I can take anybody I want, more or less.
IIHF.com: What are the main differences between your coaching philosophy and Hardy Nilsson’s?
Gustafsson: The biggest difference is that he came in and talked about his “Big Ice” game, whereas I’m trying to play a more traditional Swedish style. Otherwise, we all try to win, and we try to make the right decisions for a particular moment.
IIHF.com: How do you think the new format at the Olympics is going to affect your approach, with five round-robin games in each pool before the elimination round?
Gustafsson: I think it’s going to be hard. If you go all the way, you’ve got eight games in 12 nights. It’s going to be very, very hard for the players. They’re all coming in off tough schedules and there’s no time for preparation, and they have to get right into playing five games in seven nights. I’m afraid of what might happen. You could be looking at all the teams running into some injuries and stuff like that. There’s the time change to factor in, too. It’s going to be tough. We’ll get our last guys in on Tuesday [February 14], around lunchtime. And 24 hours later we play our first game at 11:30 in the morning. It’ll be a big adjustment for the guys, and a lot of pressure from the very start. I think having a couple more days beforehand could really make a big difference.
IIHF.com: A lot of people thought that the last time for guys like Mats Sundin, Nicklas Lidstrom, and Daniel Alfredsson to play together would be in the 2004 World Cup. What are your thoughts on the fact that those big names from the “Golden Generation” will mostly be available in Italy?
Gustafsson: I think it’s nothing to do with age. It’s about what you do on the ice, your performance. Your passport can say your age is 35 or whatever, but it always comes down to what you’re doing performance-wise. All those guys are still doing it. Of course, Sundin was hurt, and he’s had to try to get back in shape. But he’s been playing well and enjoying himself. I know from talking to these guys, they all want to be in Turin and play for Sweden. It’s going to be interesting.
IIHF.com: What are your impressions of Alfredsson’s play this season?
Gustafsson: I saw a couple of Ottawa games, and he was having a lot of fun. They’ve got some good, skilled hockey players in Ottawa, and he’s one of them. He’s been able to get the puck to the net the whole time now. You just hope he can keep that level up. If so, we’ll be happy with Team Sweden, and maybe Ottawa will go a long way in the NHL playoffs.
IIHF.com: For Henrik Lundqvist, how do you think having half an NHL season under his belt will benefit him entering the Olympics?
Gustafsson: It’s another experience. He’s a young guy who’s been through a lot of tough situations the last couple of years, and now he’s getting used to another one, coming over here and playing on the smaller rink. I wasn’t really sure if he was going to be able to make [the Rangers], but now he has, and he’s been doing really well. It’s just positive for his development. He knows what he can do out there. I’m very happy for him, and I think everybody back in Sweden is too.
IIHF.com: What needs to happen for Sweden to win its first major international title since the 1998 IIHF World Championship?
Gustafsson: Of course, you need to stay healthy. And once you get to this tournament, you need a little luck. You need a hot goalie. You need to get the breaks at the right time. There are seven or eight teams that can win this thing. If you have a bad day, you lose. You’ve got to make sure you’re on your toes every night. It’s going to be close, but we are ready to go to work.